Boca del Lupo’s “Photog. An Imaginary Look at the Uncompromising Life of Thomas Smith” at FTA

Jay Dodge. Photo: Farah Nosh

I first saw Boca Del Lupo’s work in their production of The Suicide, a co-production with San Banquito Teatro (Mexico). They brought it to our University and blew us all away with their multi-lingual and physical approach to the text. So yesterday, when I went to see Photog. An Imaginary Look at the Uncompromising Life of Thomas Smith, I really wanted to love their work as much as I had seven years ago. Photog. is a different sort of beast and so I shouldn’t compare the two works. But, though the production carries a lot of power, it did not quite sweep me off my feet in the same way. There are two more chances to see Photog. in Montreal – it plays at the FTA May 29th and 30th.

Formed as a theatre collective, Boca Del Lupo has been devising work from their hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia for the past 15 years. It is now run by the duo of Sherry Yoon and Jay Dodge. Yoon and Dodge have become recognized for their physical theatre techniques (that often include harnesses and sudden flights into the air), outdoor productions, and inter/national collaborations. A native of British Columbia myself, it is exciting to see such innovative new work coming out of the province.

Jay Dodge. Photo: Farah Nosh

Photog. was created through interviews with war photojournalists – their stories and disclosures are presented almost verbatim. Rather than lift the texts directly, however, Yoon and Dodge have created a fictional protagonist. Thomas Smith speaks directly to the audience, documenting his memories and revealing his private insecurities. These range from the horrifying to the humorous and the variety is welcome in such a difficult context. It’s a hard subject to tackle and Yoon and Dodge make a brave attempt, working carefully to be witnesses and not judges. Dodge’s performance is subtle and unaffected. He never slips into melodrama, instead using the intensity of withheld emotion, and playing the point just before a person falls apart.

The production is heavily technical. While Dodge is the sole performer, he shares the stage with two audio/visual technicians, one musician, and one tech that operates the harness system. I loved that all of the technicians were visible onstage–it was inspiring to watch that kind of teamwork and it somehow reflected the team machinery that is part of the wars described onstage. Yoon and Dodge have included seemingly every digital trick in the book but the effectiveness of these tricks is uneven. Powerful moments from the projector include phantom children appearing on Smith’s living room chair, ghosts of the children that were photographed but not saved, and captured images from Smith’s cameras. Less effective were the sound effects that accompanied video transitions, and the use of a chroma key technology that inserted live feed of the performer into projected images. I found myself questioning whether some of the effects were being used to augment the performance or for the sake of using the effect.

One line towards the end of the play struck me. Describing the folks at home who carry on as though war is not tearing apart the world, who do not contribute to peace or aid efforts even when able to, Smith says, “it’s because they are not being confronted with images of the war.” Boca Del Lupo makes very sure that the audience of Photog. is confronted by images of the war; there are stacks of photos everywhere, scattered onstage and projected onto the back screen. We are shown the photos that are not printed, the ones not clean enough for the newspapers, the ones that were not the single photo chosen that day for the world to see. Like the imaginary protagonist, each audience member becomes the witness and must navigate his or her own emotional distance to the subject matter.

Festival Transamériques, 5th Edition
May 26 – June 11, 2011
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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